In 2019, sarcastic remarks about the current political situation found themselves on the ‘Agenda’, with the tongue-in-cheek EP blowing raspberries at Trump, Gove and other assorted political airheads, as well as wittily observed relationships with social media.
PET SHOP BOYS have enjoyed a lifetime spanning career, never shying from things in the spotlight, crudely observed realities and the knowhow of song writing. Somehow they managed to stay fresh and down to earth with quality music creation, shadowing many of their contemporaries and staying on top.
The mind blowing intellect of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe has always shined through with well written lyrics, accompanied by assorted shades of pop, placing them in the enviable commercial spots often unachievable to other synth acts.
So 2020 plugs into the ‘Hotspot’ with the opus number fourteen, captured in the renowned Hansa Studios in Berlin, famous for recordings by legends such as DAVID BOWIE, BRIAN ENO, NICK CAVE and DEPECHE MODE. PSB have been using the legendary recording hotspot for some years now, and the latest production is no exception.
The album is culminating the trilogy of long players worked on by Stuart Price, who needs no introduction, having collaborated with a glorious assortment of artists spanning from Madonna, through NEW ORDER, KYLIE MINOGUE, SEAL or GWEN STEFANI, not to mention his own monikers of ZOOT WOMAN, LES RYTHMES DIGITALES or MAN WITH GUITAR.
Since ‘Electric’ and ‘Super’ went down very well, with both the former and the latter granting PSB the top chart positions again, the expectations are high for ‘Hotspot’, which was heralded by the first single as early as September last year.
‘Dreamland’ featuring London’s younger pop specialists YEARS & YEARS, captures the quintessential sound which listeners have grown to love from the duo, elevated to a new age of electronica, packed with quality dance sequences and superb hooks. The new generation of synth lovers is emerging, while the weathered fans of all things electric learn to appreciate the works of younger masters.
The acoustic guitar laced second single, ‘Burning The Heather’ introduces a somewhat slower approach to matters, sitting somewhere between ‘Numb’ and ‘My October Symphony’, with the first guitarist of SUEDE, Bernard Butler lending a hand on the strings. The track makes an exception from being recorded in Berlin as it was put down on tape at RAK Studios in London.
‘Monkey Business’ is deliciously easy going and funky, lusciously marrying the synth lines of Detroit techno; it’s filled with neon lights, LSD induced comas and gruelling dance sequences. Looking for PET SHOP BOYS’ answer to GEORGE MICHAEL’s ‘Outside’, then look no further.
‘Will-o-the-Wisp’ couldn’t be more of an opener; with its catchy hooks and modern twists, it summarises what the duo have always been about: serious dance tunes, written like no other. Oh and Tennant does his “speaking” bit in it too!
The birds are chirping, the sun is shining and the sky is blue in ‘You Are The One’, which is a quintessential PSB love song, while ‘Happy People’ sounds super vintage with the piano à la ‘Left To My Own Devices’, because whose stuff is better to copy than your own! They do end it with a nice dose of wave table synthesis though.
A further ballad ‘Hoping For A Miracle’ tells a story of a failed individual in the fast-paced world of today, over stunning arpeggios, tear jerking strings and touching melodies, an area where Tennant and Lowe have always excelled.
‘I Don’t Wanna’ is brimming with synth in various tempos, as well as electronically altered vocals but in comparison, ‘Only The Dark’ glides over much simpler musical inclusions, proving one doesn’t need overcomplicated concoctions to get to the peak of greatness.
The closing ‘Wedding In Berlin’ picks up the tempo again, as the boys like to leave their listeners dancing. If you thought one couldn’t incorporate wedding bells into a club dance track, you were wrong. They’re getting married “no matter if you’re straight or gay” in a rising Love Parade beat, slowing down to a further inclusion of wave.
It is fair to say that the conclusion to Price’s trilogy is most likely going to enhance the chart positions for PET SHOP BOYS, but whether one cares for enviable listings or not, ‘Hotspot’ is bang on the money and further strengthens their top status, showing off the never ending prowess of Tennant and Lowe’s capabilities.
This album would easily sit somewhere between ‘Bilingual’ and ‘Nightlife’, proving that the good old PSB will never go out of date.
‘Hotspot’ is available now via x2 Recordings in CD, vinyl, cassette and digital formats
Here are 30 songs which may have escaped attention as the world went grunge and then had an ongoing hangover in the wake of Britpop.
Denied mainstream recognition and now lost when looking from a UK perspective even within the dwindling synth music community, these offerings come from artists who have mostly remained in total obscurity.
However, some are highly established in their own right, albeit not necessarily in the electronic pop field.
Starting from 1992 when the CD established itself as the dominant format to the year before The Electricity Cub came into being, here are 30 Lost Art School Bops listed by year and then in alphabetical order…
VEGAS Walk Into The Wind (1992)
What happens when you cross FUN BOY THREE, EURYTHMICS and SHAKESPEARS SISTER? This lovely under rated electro-reggae tune featuring Terry Hall, David A Stewart and Siobhan Fahey! VEGAS was a one-off project when Hall and Stewart were between bands, with the former’s forlorn opening gambit of “You have to learn to love by loving” more than suiting the latter’s lush cinematic backdrop on the captivating noir of ‘Walk Into The Wind’.
Sven Väth is a Frankfurt based DJ whose his career started in 1982. Mixmag rated his album ‘Accident In Paradise’ one of the Top 50 dance albums of all time. From that, this synthpopped remix of its most accessible track ‘L’Esperanza’ recalled ‘Magic Fly’ by SPACE and captured the tranquillity of a swim with dolphins. The melodies sang despite the tune being totally instrumental while the groove drove along without being intrusive.
Hear Me Calling captured the spirit of early ultrapop DEPECHE MODE and even had CULTURE CLUB backing singer Helen Terry thrown into the mix of this infectiously catchy number. Although a publicly a trio, there was a silent fourth songwriting member who was represented by a cartoon character called Biff in the band’s promotional material. Biff was actually Richard Stannard who has since written songs for KYLIE MINOGUE, LITTLE BOOTS, MARINA & THE DIAMONDS and SPICE GIRLS.
Available on the single ‘Hear Me Calling’ via Epic Records
INTASTELLA were formally indie rockers LAUGH, until they discovered singer Stella Grundy and adapted their sound to a more dance-orientated style in a vein not dissimilar from fellow Mancunian’s HAPPY MONDAYS. Having had a minor hit with the SAINT ETIENNE flavoured cover of the FRANK VALLI Northern Soul favourite, the funkier electrovibe of ‘Grandmaster’ was the follow-up and later featured on the soundtrack of the ‘9½ Weeks’ sequel ‘Love In Paris’.
Available on the album ‘What You Gonna Do’ via Planet 3 Records
INAURA combined NINE INCH NAILS and DURAN DURAN, with the latter every much in mind when the band were signed to EMI. Produced by Steve Osborne, the metallic finish of ‘Soap Opera’ gave a rock edge to the electronically driven sound. But despite securing a support slot with THE HUMAN LEAGUE, the band got emboiled in internal record company politics with EMI actively trying to bury the band. The shelved album ‘One Million Smiles’ eventually secured an independent release in 1998.
Melody Maker’s Simon Price announced the arrival of a new scene of New Romantic revivalists, with a bold headline declaring, “ROMO – The Future Pop Explosion!” From these Romantic Modernists came ORLANDO who combined stylish, synthesized dance-pop with a love of classic songwriting. ‘Just For A Second’ was their best song, with elements of PET SHOP BOYS euphoric flavour as reimagined by the boy bands of the day, combined with an emotive lyrical backdrop.
Also seen as part of the Romo movement were SEXUS, a Manchester duo comprising of David Savage and Paul Southern Signed by ZTT, ‘The Official End Of It All’ was their second single and recalled ELECTRONIC’s ‘Getting Away With It’. The pair recorded a full album with Trevor Horn but it remains unmixed and unreleased. The duo would later team up again musically under the name PSYCHODELICS.
Available on the single ‘The Official End Of It All’ via ZTT Records
MONO were Siobhan de Maré and Martin Virgo, who found their cinematic sound lumped in with trip hop movement that spawned SNEAKER PIMPS and PORTISHEAD. A mysterious Gallic flavour crossed with samples from John Barry’s soundtrack to ‘The Ipcress File’ provided the song’s spy drama chill. The track was later incorporated into a contemporary film adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’ which starred Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow and Hank Azaria. SPICE GIRLS’ Emma Bunton recorded a cover of it in 2006.
The late Trish Keenan’s ice maiden cool was instrumental to BROADCAST’s cognoscenti appeal and with their experimental electronica, they won many fans among the cognoscenti. ‘Come On Let’s Go’ was their most accessible offering with its spy drama feel, vintage organic textures and Keenan’s sweet nonchalant vocal tones. Futuristic yet with a Cold War chill, this pushed all the tender buttons. The band were a favourite of Matt Groening, creator of ‘The Simpsons’.
QUEEN OF JAPAN were a colourful European trio consisting of singer Koneko alongside eccentric producers Jo Ashito and Jason Arigato. Specialising in dance covers of an incongruous origin like JOHN LENNON and QUEEN, their fun electronic sound took on a distinct sinister turn with this brilliant synthesized interpretation of rock legends KISS’ neo-discofied 1977 anthem. The track gained prominence after being included as part of 2 MANY DJ’s ‘As Heard On Radio Soulwax Part 2’ DJ set in 2003.
Available on the album ‘Headrush’ via Echohammer Records
Following Ms Allison’s pop flavoured debut album ‘Afterglow’ in 1999 and prior to her ‘Aftersun’ collaboration with MASSIVE ATTACK, the former ONE DOVE vocalist experimented with some lo-fi electro sounds alongside some more folky acoustic excursions on her album ‘We Are Science’. Playing squelch games over stuttering percussive loops, Allison’s enigmatic breathy vocal style almost acts as another instrument in a mildly hallucinogenic dance fashion.
Apparently based on true events, ‘Party Monster’ starring Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green and Chlӧe Savigny was effectively ‘Electroclash – The Movie’; ‘Take Me To The Club’, written and produced by Bruno Coviell, captured the tension and euphoria of nightlife. Electrofied slap bass and sinister sequences added some gothic grandeur to the aural hedonism. “I only feel right under bright lights… take me to the club” was the profound proclamation!
‘I Feel Love’ meets THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS on this duo’s amazing debut single, SYNTAX consisted of Jan Burton and ex-FLUKE member Mike Tournier. The 8 minute full length version possessed a pulsing hypnotic quality while spacey Sci-Fi synths and full-fat sequences recalled a bygone disco age but updating the template for a new century. Dark but immensely danceable!
WHITE TOWN aka Jyoti Mishra had a freak No1 hit with ‘Your Woman’ in 1997 but kept a low profile, carving out an independent musical career with little regard for public profile. Influenced by his heroes OMD and DEPECHE MODE, ‘Whenever I Say Hello’ first appeared on Ninth Wave’s ‘Electricity 2’ compilation and was the highlight of his album ‘Don’t Mention The War’, eventually released in 2006. A wonderful lonely paean to lost love, this does sound like ‘Things You Said’ reimagined for ‘A Broken Frame’.
Sony Music were none too happy when the former SAVAGE GARDEN front man veered from his drippy ballads to go electro! ‘I Like The Way’ was the highlight from his album ‘The Tension & The Spark’, the title of which came from the chorus of this spiky piece of synthpop. Like ERASURE gone all aggressive if you can believe that, Hayes and Sony Music parted ways following this fuzzy excursion.
THE great lost act of the synthesizer revival has to be VIC TWENTY. Blowing away ERASURE while supporting them on their muted covers tour, Piney Gir and Adrian Morris showed promise with their cartoon-like girl/boy synthpop. One of the highlights in their live set was an ironic electronic reconstruction of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’. Released on Mute, ‘Text Msg’ was their only single as a duo, a quirky narrative of the modern generation who can only dump hapless lovers by mobile phone.
Available on the single ‘Txt Msg’ via Mute Records
Argentine combo COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO originally started out as a duo comprising of Maru Pardo Saguier and Sebastian Cordoves. With a heavy KRAFTWERK and GIORGIO MORODER influence but adding a rock edge, ‘Fantasy’ from their eponymous debut album was a perfect demonstration of their strong melodies based around club friendly synthetic grooves and new wave sensibilities. Their most recent album ‘Humanum’ came out in September 2017.
After the succes of THE KILLERS, indie bands were starting to embrace synths again and DELAYS almost went the full hog with this Trevor Horn assisted electronic disco number. The pulsing sequences and syncopated rhythm section were just pure DURAN DURAN, while Greg Gilbert’s raspy falsetto in the soaring chorus and choppy guitar ensured the band weren’t totally detached from their roots.
Available on the single ‘Valentine’ via Rough Trade Records
Before he worked with MADONNA, NEW ORDER, THE KILLERS, KYLIE MINOGUE, TAKE THAT and PET SHOP BOYS, Stuart Price produced and co-wrote most of the only album by Philadelphia songstress Juliet Richardson. Driven by a heavy percussive mantra coupled to a deep bass rumble, her sultry soulful vocals worked well within the cool electro backing to provide a wonderful sexually charged atmosphere. Richardson is now a yoga teacher with a young family.
This promising band took the best of New Romantic thrill and a tight Stephen Hague production for a brilliant single with a killer chorus and solid beats, reinforced by a big reverberating bassline. Despite a support slot with HEAVEN 17, a chart scandal involving over enthusiastic management on their second single ‘Industry’ destroyed all momentum and the band retreated, re-emerging later as MATINEE CLUB before becoming THE MODERN again! Nathan Cooper has since reappeared as KID KASIO.
LUKE HAINES Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop – Richard X Mix (2006)
Once referred to as the Adolf Hitler of Britpop by the music press, Luke Haines’ memoir ‘Bad Vibes: Britpop & My Part In Its Downfall’ suggested that BLUR’s Damon Alban deserved to be nominated for that title far more! An installation of danceable pop terrorism by THE AUTEURS and BLACK BOX RECORDER leader, with a full fat octave driven electro mix by Richard X, this gleefully satirised the Shoreditch club scene with a bitter attack on its array of poseurs.
PROTOCOL had some Romo flair and despite being almost entirely based on ‘Atomic’ by BLONDIE, second single ‘Where’s The Pleasure?’ secured that all important radio play. But despite this, Polydor pulled the plug on their excellent follow-up ‘Love Is My Drug’ and the promising debut album ‘Rules Of Engagement’ despite sending out promos to the press and filming a promo video. Lead singer John Pritchard took another punt at stardom by participating in the 2013 series of ‘The Voice’.
This was an excellent ‘Sweet Dreams’ pastiche from vocalist Stefy Rae and producer Jimmy Harry. Aimed at the teen pop market with its Orange County brat subject matter, ‘Chelsea’ was more sophisticated than it appeared and was probably three years ahead of its time. Co-written by the soon-to-be ubiquitous producer Greg Kurstin and accompanied by a video featuring an Adam West cameo, if this had come out in 2009, it probably would have been a Top 10 hit.
Available on the album ‘The Orange Album’ via Wind-Up Records
Victoria Hesketh before she was LITTLE BOOTS, she came to together with Lucy Catherwood and Marie France at Leeds University to produce a series of well received spikey pop numbers before splitting. Their final single ‘You’re Out’ was produced by Greg Kurstin and the start of a more electronic sound in the mix. Treated guitars, fuzzy bass and subtle synths all merged together in a feisty cocktail and the seed of the raw excitement found its way into songs like ‘Meddle’.
Available on the single ‘You’re Out’ via 679/Atlantic Records
Consisting of Aggie Peterson and Per Martinsen, FROST have described their music as upbeat space-pop. This was beautiful electronic dance music from the enigmatic Norwegian duo with Peterson’s soaring soprano and the gorgeous synth vibrato putting minds into a marvellous trance. ‘Sleepwalker’ was the sort of song you would want to play at a rave in the snow! their cool cover of OMD’s ‘Messages’, from the ‘Love! Revolution’ album which ‘Sleepwalker’ came, is also a worthy listen.
Italo disco was a much maligned form of electro kitsch but was rooted in GIORGIO MORODER which eventually influenced NEW ORDER and PET SHOP BOYS; Anglo-Argentine duo HEARTBREAK revived the genre, complete with accents, “wo-woah-ah” chants and heavy dance rhythms. On great catchy songs such as ‘We’re Back’, the sweaty impassioned charisma of vocalist Sebastian Muravchik was more than convincing while Ali Renault provided the meaty electronic backing.
The Dresden sextet were a dreamy but epic cross between A-HA and SIGUR RÓS. Singer Felix Räuber’s falsetto voice polarised but the frantic driven tempo, dramatic electronic strings and rousing melancholic chorus of ‘The Colour Of Snow’ made it a fine follow-up their German No1 ‘Allein Allein’ and gave the band enough of a reputation to be invited to support DEPECHE MODE at their Leipzig gigs in 2009.
Pure octave shift disco heaven on this ode to the IKEA generation by modern electronic take on BANANARAMA. Despite being all under 25, these three ladies grew up to the sound of the synthesizer and learned to dance to the beat of electronic drums via their mothers’ ERASURE and A-HA singles. Paying girl group homage to both YAZOO and DEPECHE MODE, RED BLOODED WOMEN sounded not unlike GIRLS ALOUD produced by Daniel Miller!
KATSEN were a short lived Brighton duo comprising of Donna Grimaldi and Chris Blackburn who crossed CRYSTAL CASTLES with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA for their own brand of quirky synthpop. ‘Florian’ with its mournful melodica line inspired by ‘Kommetenmelodie 2’ was yet another in a tradition of songs dedicated to the enigmatic quiet man of KRAFTWERK which have included ‘V2 Schneider’ and ‘Rolf & Florian Go Hawaiian’ (sic).
Available on the album ‘It Hertz!’ via Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation
SPUTNIKO! (real name Hiromi Ozaki) showcased her brand of laptop pop around London where she was based. “Exploring intersections between technology and popular culture” as reflected by titles such as ‘The Skype Song’ and ‘The Mixi Song’, her most immediate track has been ‘The Google Song’, a story of love in the modern computer age. Too shy to approach the object of her desire, she simply went home to her faithful laptop and googled him!! “I like you” she proclaimed. It was tremendously catchy too!
Available on the DVD ‘Parakonpe 3000’ via 360° Records
It is debatable whether number thirteen will be lucky or not so much for PET SHOP BOYS, but after the album number twelve, ‘Electric’ in 2013, with its return to the good old, if ever so slightly camp (of course!) electronica, one expects perfection.
The predecessor to ‘Electric’, ‘Elysium’, nearly put the group alongside the likes of DEPECHE MODE, with their dwindling reputation and the general feeling that one cannot expect a decent long player anymore. ‘Elysium’ was stripped of the energy and the vitality, one has grown to expect from the London duo.
‘Electric’ raised the bar, mainly thanks to the superb production by Stuart Price, restoring the belief that PSB still had it. And now comes ‘Super’. Also produced by Price, well known for his collaborations with MADONNA, HURTS, SCISSOR SISTERS, KYLIE MINOGUE and GWEN STEFANI amongst many others, together with ‘Electric’, ‘Super’ is another comeback to the inherent PET SHOP BOYS that has been around since their first outing ‘Please’.
Price, who was the musical director on PSB’s ‘Pandemonium Tour’, and toured with the duo during showcasing ‘Electric’, has added a fresh approach to the established act that Tennant and Lowe are.
‘Happiness’ kicks off the club tracks collection with the ever optimistic lyric “it’s a long way to happiness, it’s a long way to go, but I’m gonna get there, boy, the only way I know”; against all odds they’re trying to keep good old pop alive. Excellently mixed, layered sounds burst into a comatose of euphoria, marking a great start to something worth pursuing.
‘The Pop Kids’ descends, being a quintessential PET SHOP BOYS track; carefree, but complicated, resembling the story of ‘Being Boring’ – the youth who never missed an opportunity for classy fun. Tennant and Lowe have never changed, they remain “the pop kids”.
‘Twenty-something’ tells a further tale which the duo are celebrated for. Their story telling tracks have become a kind of delicacy and this time, it’s about Londoners in their prime of life, “twenty-something hard to beat… feel the heat” within a slower paced beat.
‘Groovy’ picks up the tempo once again, leading onto ‘Dictator Decides’, which marks another of the politically laced numbers that the PSB boys do so well. Like their previous gems such as ‘Don Juan’ or ‘I Get Along’, this one hits the truth, that any politician is just a regular person underneath, sometimes wanting to live a normal life; a life without having to make decisions influencing nations. The plea to end his life to stop the tyranny clearly rings in “if you get rid of me we can all be free”.
The instrumental ‘Pazzo’ introduces the next track, ‘Inner Sanctum’ which reacts to German techno pop scene based in Berlin’s Berghain, the ultimate night club with its cavernous main room. The track is heavy, punchy and dizzy, perfect for a pounds, shillings and pence induced rave.
‘Undertow’, ‘Burn’ and ‘Say It To Me’ hold onto the disco idea once more, with the latter being somewhat of an excellently executed ‘Domino Dancing’ style dance piece.
In the realm of fast paced tracks, ‘Sad Robot World’ is the ballad this album needs as a slow coma, and it is actually about robots! The final credit, ‘Into Thin Air’ calls for a collective disappearance to escape the mundanity, to “create new identities and fly into the unknown, we’ll vanish no one would know where”. Being different isn’t always easy; it creates misunderstandings and unnecessary pain, therefore the idea of avoidance and escapism sounds inviting.
The kings of pop, having turned out the biggest synth anthems over the last thirty years, have proven again that given the correct production, their mission can be accomplished.
No fillers, no ballads (which according to Lowe are to be featured on the next Price produced album), no nonsense… it’s a notion many of their contemporaries should adhere to.
Pop isn’t dead yet. With albums like ‘Super’ it never will be.
Never mind their age, PET SHOP BOYS are the eternal “pop kids” and their music reinvents itself in the best possible way. ‘Super’ is SUPER!
‘Super’ is released by in CD, vinyl and digital formats
Band break-ups, although always problematic, can have a polarising, but often surprisingly positive musical effect on those involved.
The well-documented HUMAN LEAGUE Mark I split, where Martyn Ware was effectively fired from his own band, motivated him, Ian Craig Marsh and new vocalist Glenn Gregory to strive to make an album which was better than the one Philip Oakey’s new version of the band was creating. Although arguably in terms of sales and critical acclaim they didn’t, it still set HEAVEN 17 on their way and certainly didn’t harm their future success.
The troubles in the NEW ORDER camp and the acrimony between Peter Hook and his ex-bandmates have managed to rack up plenty of column inches, reaching a nadir with Hook describing returning keyboard player Gillian Gilbert as a “wonky table leg”, to which she rather more subtly and rightly retorted “I’m on all the best records aren’t I?”. What the split has done though, is allow Hook to tour pretty constantly for the last five years, showcasing a mixture of JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER material which to his frustration, the band (when he was in it) seldom played.
So now with a new record deal with Mute, it’s an ideal opportunity for Bernard Sumner and his colleagues (old and new) to prove that after a couple of “so-so” albums, that they still have some creative fire left in them and are able to function without their founder member and bassist.
The lead-off single and album opener ‘Restless’ certainly didn’t bode too optimistically for ‘Music Complete’, although in the context of the album is certainly more of a grower and takes a few listens to appreciate its charms. Next up is THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS’ Tom Rowlands produced ‘Singularity’, whose sequencers recall ‘Temptation’ and also features some welcome KRAFTWERK-ian percussion sounds and unhinged resonant synth squeals throughout. The melodic synths and half-time drum patterns used are refreshing for a track which doesn’t try to pander to any particular genre.
‘Plastic’, which features Elly Jackson aka LA ROUX, revolves around some even more prominent Moroder-ish sequencing with the sort of girly backing vocals which first made an appearance on ‘Crystal’. A Hooky soundalike bassline by replacement Tom Chapman makes an appearance midway which is sure to wind up the ex-bassist and an extended electronic middle section showcases the first significant programmed drum machine work on the album.
‘Tutti Frutti’, with its pitched down Italian vocal, initially recalls ‘Fine Time’ from ‘Technique’ and once the song skips past its jaunty ‘Relax’-style intro, proves itself to be a classic NEW ORDER song. This time, Elly Jackson’s guest vocals compliment Sumner’s perfectly, whose own phrasing during the song’s verse sections showcases a previously unheard lazy vocal delivery from the frontman and includes the classic line “where every scholar means a dollar”. The song’s middle section and ending features a wonderfully orchestrated string section, throws in an acid house drum pattern for good measure and at its climax, some more additional low pitched vocals (sampled from a very suspect Italian game show) which unfortunately could prove the deal breaker for some.
‘People On The High Line’ with its ultra-funky bass and guitar combination, starts rather worryingly like ‘Club Tropicana’ by WHAM! before descending into a rather forgettable ‘dad house’ piano track – Elly Jackson again guests here. ‘Stray Dog’ is one long IGGY POP monologue which is based upon a poem that Sumner constructed and is surely a wasted opportunity – a sung vocal performance would certainly have proved more intriguing.
‘Academic’ showcases the band-style NEW ORDER sound and is a highlight of ‘Music Complete’; it effortlessly glides past and features some classically direct Sumner guitar which is missed elsewhere on the album. ‘Music Complete’ closer, ‘Superheated’ is a Stuart Price production and features Brandon Flowers from THE KILLERS on vocals – it’s a rather lightweight uptempo conclusion and features more string orchestration. Yet again, like other songs here, it seems to miss Sumner’s trademark guitar.
What this album DOES have in its favour is that it doesn’t try overly hard to win you over. Whereas the recent DURAN DURAN album (with its myriad of guest vocalists and producers) was the musical equivalent of a tired old dog trying to hump your leg to get your attention, ‘Music Complete’ is a far more subtle proposition and is far better for it.
Although very electronic in places, there is still a real band dynamic here, especially with the use of Stephen Morris‘ drumming and the implementation of producers, which has generally helped rather than hinder the creative process. Though not a classic in comparison with ‘Low-Life’ or ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’, ‘Music Complete’ does in places provide some compelling listening and in many respects is a revitalised, if flawed piece of work.
At the end of the day, what proves ultimately enlightening, is that by the end of the album, Peter Hook’s presence isn’t overly missed. Tom Chapman ably replicates his sound (albeit mixed slightly lower in the songs here) and although hardcore fans will perpetually scream “No Hooky, no New Order!”, ‘Music Complete’ is a complete and musically coherent enough product without him.
‘Music Complete’ is released by Mute Artists in CD, clear vinyl LP, vinyl box set and download formats
Big corporations may have a stranglehold on the modern music industry, but it’s the genuine music enthusiasts with their independent labels and knowledge of their respected genres who feed it by their intuition to recognise talent.
One of the most successful has been Daniel Miller with Mute Records; his ambition brought DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO, ERASURE, MOBY and GOLDFRAPP to the world.
And in the current climate, there are others too; in Europe, there’s George Geranios whose Undo Records has given us electro delights such as MARSHEAUX, MIKRO, NIKONN and KID MOXIE.
And here in the UK, there has been Mark Jones, impresario of Wall Of Sound Records.
The label began as a collaboration between Jones and Marc Lessner, when Lessner employed Jones at his music distributor Soul Trader. Compilations and club nights followed.
Wall Of Sound turned first PROPELLERHEADS and then RÖYKSOPP into Top 10 album acts while the label also launched the career of Stuart Price aka LES RYTHMES DIGITALES. Belatedly getting a hit single in 2004 with ‘Jacques Your Body (Make Me Sweat)’ following its use in the ‘Transformer’ Citroën C4 TV ad, Stuart Price’s influence on the shape of 21st century popular music cannot be under estimated… read the production credits of albums by MADONNA, THE KILLERS, TAKE THAT and PET SHOP BOYS if you’re unsure!
Comparatively more recently, Wall Of Sound have released albums by GRACE JONES, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and BEF.
As a long-time fan of electronic music, Mark Jones’ success also led him to becoming involved with BBC6 Music under his Back To The Phuture banner, with programmes that have recognised the history of electronic pop. BTTP also hosted the ambitious ‘Tomorrow Is Today’ event featuring GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX, MIRRORS and MOTOR in Spring 2011.
With Wall Of Sound now celebrating their 21st Anniversary with a compilation entitled ‘Walls Have Ears – 21 Years of Wall Of Sound’ featuring the label’s highlights and previously unreleased BBC sessions, Mark Jones chatted to The Electricity Club…
What was the music that inspired you when you were growing up as a teenager, and how did this shape Wall Of Sound as a record label?
OK, well I reacted against what my brother and sister were into, as you do, which was rock and reggae at the time. I was transfixed by electronic music and got my Mum and Dad to get me a Yamaha CS01 from the Grattans catalogue. I painted my bedroom black and sat up there making noises. The sounds and scapes made it all work. I’ve always loved melody too and been hooked on hooks. Some of the music that made me do it…
THE HUMAN LEAGUE – Every single track / album they created from the beginning 🙂
BLONDIE ‘Parallel Lines’ – I was obsessed with the band and Debbie Harry as a teen.
THE NORMAL ‘TVOD’- Electroid post-punk that inspired me to make the first ever Wall Of Sound single, as Daniel Miller did with this and Mute Records.
DEPECHE MODE ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ – The first synth riff I learnt and still is with me every minute of every day, I followed them around Germany in 1983 🙂
STEELY DAN ‘Do It Again’ – The band that brought all the Wall Of Sound artists together bizarrely.
The label’s first Top 20 single was ‘History Repeating’ in 1997 with PROPELLERHEADS and SHIRLEY BASSEY. It was quite an eccentric idea although in many ways, it was an obvious one given the duo’s interest in Bond themes. Whose idea was it to bring in her in?
Well, we had talked about getting vocalists and the idea was rinsed out in the very early hours in some dodgy Belgian hotel. Alex Gifford and myself were both a bit obsessed with getting her on the track. Alex had recorded a basic vocal through a pitch shifter and it sounded more like BILLIE HOLIDAY than SHIRLEY BASSEY. We then pitched it to Shirley’s management and she was digging it in very first listen… the rest is history… repeating.
What was the reaction like during the climax of Britpop and chart dominance by tedious bores like TRAVIS and STEREOPHONICS to Wall Of Sound’s release of an electropop album like LES RYTHMES DIGITALES ‘Darkdancer’ in 1999?
Oooooooooh! Well, I’ve said this before, but I did get hate mail and death threats when we got ‘Darkdancer’ out there. Some peeps really didn’t get it at that time as they saw the 80s as an enemy. Literally!
How did you discover Stuart Price aka Jacques Lu Cont aka LES RYTHMES DIGITALES? And what’s it been like watching him rise to working with MADONNA and literally becoming the top record producer in the world?
He bunked off school and came to see me at Soul Trader with Adam Blake as they had the band ZOOT WOMAN who I listened to and loved. I signed them up and released them, it was the fifth ever single on the label. He then informed me he had some ‘other music’ which was his school music exam and played it to me; that was ‘Liberator’. We then created LES RYTHMES DIGITALES and Jacques Lu Cont, as I said he couldn’t be the same person and the French thing was buzzing. ‘Darkdancer’ really stands the tests of time.
He is one of, if not, my proudest signing ever to the label. Seeing him elevate to being one of the world’s leading producers, and working with the world’s leading artists is something that I am very proud of.
Is it true that you first approached Phil Oakey about singing on LES RYTHMES DIGITALES’ song ‘Sometimes’ which was eventually sung by NIK KERSHAW?
I don’t remember that, but I probably did 🙂
‘Dare’ was the album that changed Stuart’s life as he was pretty much listening to classical music before that apparently!
The sublime ‘Melody AM’ by RÖYKSOPP was a really important album for Wall Of Sound. How did you find them and what makes them so magically consistent?
RÖYKSOPP have never compromised their artistic integrity, and they never will. ‘Melody AM’ is the biggest selling album in the label’s history. They are who they are, and not someone else. They featured on a Norwegian compilation and we found them there. I flew over to see them and we made things happen.
How do you look back on signing THE HUMAN LEAGUE and the resultant album ‘Credo’?
Well, they say “Never work with your heroes!” but I thought “F*** that!”; sowhen the opportunity arose to give them the bounceboard and platform that they needed, I couldn’t say no! The band made me do what I do. ‘Credo’ is a great album and was loved by everyone that actually heard it. The band were / are great to work with.
Of course, you released BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction Volume 3 – Dark’, continuing the association with HUMAN LEAGUE co-founder Martyn Ware. Would you be interested in releasing the new HEAVEN 17 album?
Yes! BEF ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction 3: Dark’ had some amazing guest vocalists. Martyn Ware is another inspiring artist who creates magical moments in music. A new HEAVEN 17 album would be great to hear.
Photo by Richard Price
You were a big fan of synth band MIRRORS, although they were on Skint Records and sadly didn’t breakthrough. What would you have done different with them if they had been signed to Wall Of Sound?
Yep, I loved MIRRORS. I’m not clear on what exactly happened though, I assumed the band split up so there was nothing the label could do. You have to understand exactly who a band are and what they want to achieve to make things happen.
You’ve been very critical of the ‘X Factor’ dominance on the music industry. But what are your thoughts on the more generic EDM that’s sweeping the US?
*adopts American accent* EDM?? It’s brand new, right ? 🙂
With EDM, the penny has dropped and the pills have dropped. Hopefully, they will be asking “where did this music come from?” sometime soon…
They need music in a ‘box / brand’ over there but hey, it’s finally happened and broken through. It is crazy. I’ve said this a few times too… when I first took music from the label over to the USA, most peeps I played it to said (*readopts American accent *) “This is not music! This is not ‘real’ music” because it didn’t have a ‘real’ instruments on it.
Then when we did PROPELLERHEADS and more, they were like (*American accent*) “Wait… is that a guitar?? Is that drums?? This is real music now!”; they had a bump there. Never played on daytime radio but it did well and connected to people.
What’s been your highlight with Wall Of Sound after 21 years?
Still being here… but it was apparently always my goal to get to this point. In every interview I did back in the crazy days when journalists asked “Why are you doing this?”, I answered “Cos I’m going to get to 20 years… and stick it up your ar*e!”
I am proud of all of the music that I have released on the label, and giving artists the platform to do what they do and be themselves.
What new electronic acts do you rate at the moment?
All the acts on the label obviously… but there are a few others 🙂
DENIS THE NIGHT & THE PANIC PARTY
What’s next for Wall Of Sound?
A new RÖYKSOPP single…
EKKOES – like HURTS meets THE HUMAN LEAGUE
KILLSFLAW – THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS vs LED ZEPPELIN… rock ‘n’ rave or as I am calling it in the USA… RDM! (Rocktronic Dance Music) 🙂
KIDS ON BRIDGES – the album ‘Kidology’ is out there. They combine electronics and guitars
in a cool way too
PERFECT DAY – pop vs rock (prock), they are amazing 😉
There are some very new artists that I cannot announce at momento, as contracts not signed and someone will probably steal them!
Will Back To The Phuture ever return and would you be interested putting on another event like ‘Tomorrow Is Today’ featuring GARY NUMAN, JOHN FOXX, MIRRORS and MOTOR? If so, who would be the fantasy line-up?
Well, I’ve been focussing on the Wall of Sound fanniversary, the ‘Walls Have Ears’ compilation release and more.
But yes, Back To The Phuture will be returning, so many peeps have been asking me about it too. It looks like there will be some residencies around the world and more. There are too many phantasy line ups for me 🙂
Where do I start? BTTP places classic artists with new artists rather than being too retro-minded to. I have some cool ideas, but don’t want to mention them as they will deffo get borrowed. Phantasy line-ups… here are some that explore different electronic genres…
THE HUMAN LEAGUE
BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP
PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTING
JEAN MICHEL JARRE
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Mark Jones